Teenagers can make poor decisions that result in justice system involvement, creating obstacles to future opportunities and success. One of the core principles of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation—helping troubled youth get back on track so they can become productive, responsible members of the community. However, records of juvenile crime—regardless of how minor or severe—may follow an individual throughout adulthood and can have far-reaching consequences on a young person’s ability to pursue higher education, obtain employment or housing, or join the military. Since its founding in 1975, Juvenile Law Center has worked to ensure that juvenile records do not pose barriers to young people as they strive to better their lives.
Juvenile records contain highly sensitive information—including information about the child’s family, education, social history, behavioral problems, and mental health issues—that is used to provide targeted treatment and rehabilitative services to individual youth. But, such information can be damaging if made available to the public. It is a myth that juvenile records are confidential and automatically destroyed when teenagers become adults. Maintaining juvenile records does very little to advance public safety while narrowing the path to success for youth exiting the juvenile justice system.
State laws vary on how to protect children from the devastating effects of their records. To limit harmful consequences, Juvenile Law Center urges the swift and permanent destruction, or “expungement,” of these records. Juvenile Law Center has been fighting to ensure confidentiality and expungment of juvenile records for decades. Our expungement work has taken different forms, including individual litigation, educational publications and training about the collateral consequences of juvenile records and expungement laws.
In 2014, Juvenile Law Center released the first-ever comprehensive evaluation of juvenile records laws in the United States, Failed Policies; Forfeited Futures: A Nationwide Scorecard on Juvenile Records, and an in-depth study of related laws, Juvenile Records: A National Review of State Laws on Confidentiality, Sealing, and Expungement. More recently, Juvenile Law Center released a report on the lonog-term collageral consequences of juvenile records, Future Interrupted: The Collageral Damage Caused by Proliferation of Juvenile Records. In Future Interrupted, Juvenile Law Center urges that we allow children to grow up unfettered by their childhood mistakes—to have their court involvement remain in the past so they can move forward with their lives. Partnering with advocates, local jurisdictions and the federal government, Juvenile Law Center is using these studies as a catalyst to enact reform measures nationwide to limit access to juvenile records and the disclosure of juvenile records information.
Last updated: 2/11/2015
Studies have found that delinquent youth are more than seven times as likely to show a history of adult unemployment and welfare dependence than non-delinquent youth.
Sampson, R. J. and John H. Laub. "Crime and Deviance over the life course: The Salience of Adult Social Bonds." American Sociological Review 55.5 (Oct. 1990): 609-627. Web. May 2011.
"Children may be expelled from school for delinquency adjudications for certain offenses, and information about delinquency adjudications will be sent to the next school if they choose to transfer."
The Pennsylvania Juvenile Collateral Consequences Checklist. Pennsylvania: Models for Change Systems Reform in Juvenile Justice, May 2010.
There are an estimated 70 million U.S. adults with arrests or convictions.
National Employment Law Project/Center for Community Change, Seizing the “Ban the Box” Momentum to Advance a New Generation of Fair Chance Hiring Reforms, (Aug. 2014)
Background Check companies generally are not permitted to report arrest records older than 7 years old.
Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681.605.
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